More than one in three Americans is very concerned about a boogeyman named “voter fraud,” so it’s time to shine a flashlight under the bed: Neither the boogeyman, nor in-person voter fraud ― at least as the GOP portrays it ― are real.
According to a Gallup poll released Monday, 36 percent of Americans believe voter fraud is a “major problem,” and a further 32 percent view it as a “minor problem.”
The poll found that Republicans are much more concerned about voter fraud than Democrats. Fifty-two percent of Republicans think ineligible voters casting ballots will be a major problem in this year’s election, compared to 26 percent of Democrats.
There’s just one problem: There’s virtually no evidence of in-person voter fraud occurring, and voter ID laws passed by state legislatures do nothing to address the fraud that actually does exist. Instead, the laws mostly just impede minorities from voting.
For example, in Texas ― home to a voter ID law so restrictive a federal appeals court recently found it violates the Voting Rights Act ― you’re literally more likely to get struck by lightning than encounter in-person voting fraud.
A 2015 PolitiFact investigation found Texas has prosecuted just three people since 2002 for the type of fraud addressed by the state’s voter ID law. That means only around 1 in 18 million votes in Texas might be a) fraudulent and b) prevented by the state’s voter ID law.
And in-person voter fraud is just as rare on a national level.
According to a “comprehensive investigation” by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, between 2000 and 2014 there were just 31 incidents of in-person voter fraud (the sort a voter ID law would prevent) in more than 1 billion ballots cast nationally.
Even worse, in a guest article for the Washington Post, Levitt explained the voter ID laws don’t actually target the fraud that actually does exist:
Most current ID laws ... aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam.
Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.
“Election fraud happens,” Levitt noted. “But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about.”
Instead of actually stopping real fraud, many critics point out that these laws conveniently target voters more likely to support Democrats.
In addition to the Texas law, a U.S. appeals court struck down a similar law in North Carolina earlier this summer, ruling the state legislature there targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
And in Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge James Peterson came to a similar conclusion this July regarding voter ID laws in the state, which he said unfairly targeted minority voters.
“To put it bluntly,” Judge Peterson wrote in the decision, “Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”